Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Nakasendo solo XIII

Two cups of espresso did their best against the two pints of stout the night before.  Takasaki's streets were reasonably quiet at 7 a.m., and up the road, I found a sign saying 'Tokyo 100km,' with an arrow pointing left.  I turned in that direction, and began walking.

Takasaki is a city clinging to its Nakasendo past, but in a kitschy Route 66 fashion, with its nicknack antique shops and funky little nostalgic eateries.  The scent of kerosene and diesel hangs thick in the air, taking my reveries from the Mother Road and over to Asia.  A commuter train temporarily cuts the morning sun from my eyes, revealing its carriages painted to resemble bricks. 

At some point in the morning, I enter Saitama.  The Nakasendo signs in Gunma annoyed in that they were most often placed along straightaways where you already knew where you were going, and not at the turns where you needed them.  But at least they had signs.  Saitama had none at all.  Outside Honjo, laid into the brick sidewalks were tile reproductions of Hiroshige's post town woodcuts.  Why would someone go to the bother of installing these, yet not going the obvious step further and putting up trail markers? I suppose that I needed to ask one of the politicians represented on the election posters that literally covered every structure.   One of the posters was of a politician with a bad bar-code combover, signifying vanity coupled with an overt willingness to deceive.

I am on the busy roads all day.  I get a brief reprieve as I cross a broad river along an older bridge that is pedestrian only, yet has signs warning me of cars.  Then I am fed onto a bicycle path atop a river bank berm, above the usual gateball players, and other old-timers walking a slow slalom back and forth across a soccer field like a cadre of zombies.  I need to pee and so utilize the shelter of an underpass, but I'm still in mid-stream when an old woman bikes past, smiling.

Suburbs and more suburbs.  Walking Route 17 made it difficult to appreciate Okabe's many kura and old brick beauties.  Instead, my body is rebelling from the monotony, and for the first time on the whole Nakasendo I get blisters.   I hobble along this final stretch, eyeing the row of temples and shrines lined up neatly only one road over.  If I weren't such a damn purist...

And on into Fukuya.  There is a little character left here, in a handful of older Meiji buildings and ancient shops whose appeal is limited to those of an advanced age.  One old sake brewery stands proudly on a street corner.  The train station is a beautiful vision in Victorian brick, and I wonder at the fuss currently being made of Tokyo's Marunouchi Station, when this building before me has a similar, yet less vain appeal.  I am thankful for the train it hosts, as it whisks me away from the automobiles and from the asphalt.

Seventy kilometers remain to Nihonbashi.  Two hard, or three easy days.  I'll probably choose the latter, but in any case, they can wait until spring. 

On the turntable:  "Radio India:  The Eternal Dream of Sound"
On the nighttable:  William E. Griffis, "The Mikado's Empire"

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